Those Pesky Ruskies

I was watching television today, one of my usual pastimes and I settled down to watch the old 60’s TV show the Saint starring Roger Moore as adventurer Simon Templar. In this week’s episode Templar is sent by British Intelligence to intercept Colonel Smolenko, a top ranking KGB officer who is in danger of being murdered. The murder will be blamed on the British so Templar has to stop it happening and find out who is behind it all.

The colonel it turns out is a beautiful cool blonde of the female variety. She takes some convincing that Simon Templar is out to save her but finally goes along with everything despite Simon being a bourgeois capitalist adventurer. As the action takes place in Paris, Simon decides to show the Soviet era colonel some pretty bourgeois restaurants, bars and western style night life. All of this has an effect on the colonel because at the end of the episode, despite a liquidation order coming her way for Simon, she declines to obey and Simon lives on to fight another day.  Ahh, that old rogue Roger Moore, he did have some charm!

One reason why I’ve mentioned the Saint is because that tongue in cheek 60’s TV version of Russian spies contrasts sharply with recent TV news about the Russian father and daughter involved in the nerve agent attack in Salisbury. The March 4th attack on Sergei Skripal, once an informant for the UK’s foreign intelligence service, and his daughter, Yulia, exposed local people to risk around public places in Salisbury. Traces of the poison have been found at a pub and a pizza parlour visited by the Skripals. Prime Minister Theresa May said in the House of Commons that “It is now clear that Mr. Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia.” The Russians, naturally deny any such attack. How the whole episode will end is anybody’s guess but as I write this, claims and counter claims are still going back and forth across the media. It seems clear to me though that the Russians, despite giving Communism the boot, are still not fully converted to the ways of the western democracies. Indeed, Mr Putin’s suppression of opposition in the Russian Federation must surely have brought forth complimentary murmurs from Stalin and Brezhnev in the Soviet afterlife.

Mikhail Gorbachev was the man who brought Russia kicking and screaming into the democratic world. He did not end the Soviet era though, in fact what he wanted, I think, was a democratic communist union. That idea though was ruined by Boris Yeltsin who must have smiled inwardly when events brought him to power. Here was the man exiled from the Communist party by Gorbachev who then managed to return to power because of democratic initiatives instituted by the same man. Mikhail Gorbachev made himself President then found the Soviet Union disappearing underneath him. Yeltsin took over the fledgling Russian Federation and Putin, the Russian leader today became Acting President when Yeltsin later resigned. Putin appears to be happy to duck and dive in his attempts to stay in power just like his predecessors of a hundred years ago.

Lenin by the painter Brodskiy

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known by his revolutionary alias of Lenin was another man determined to grab power out of the ashes of the Russian Revolution.Winston Churchill described his return to Russia from exile, facilitated by Germany in a sealed railway train, as “like a plague bacillus from Switzerland to Russia.” Lenin presided over the October Revolution and took power from the Provisional Government of Alexander Kerensky. After doing a deal with Germany, Lenin extracted Russia from the First World War and later consolidated his Bolshevik empire by emerging victorious from the Russian civil war. In his later years poor health prevented him from removing his would be successor, a man Lenin felt unsuitable as Soviet leader, and so Joseph Dzhugashvili came to power beginning a reign more terrible than any of the deposed Romanov Czars.  Dzhugashvili of course prefered the alias of Stalin.

Stalin ruled over the Soviet empire until his death in 1953. Even as he lay crippled by a stroke his aides were too scared to move him in case they incurred his displeasure. It was Khrushchev who finally emerged as Stalin’s successor, consigning potential successor security chief Beria to imprisonment and death. Khrushchev initiated a number of reforms in the Soviet Union, opening up the gulags and freeing prisoners but he became increasingly unpopular with his colleagues in the Politburo until he was finally removed in favour of Brezhnev in 1964.

The coup was a quiet and bloodless one, Khrushchev later commenting “I’m old and tired. Let them cope by themselves. I’ve done the main thing. Could anyone have dreamed of telling Stalin that he didn’t suit us anymore and suggesting he retire? Not even a wet spot would have remained where we had been standing. Now everything is different. The fear is gone, and we can talk as equals. That’s my contribution. I won’t put up a fight.”

Ian Smith, the Prime Minister of that long vanished country Rhodesia once said this about democracy: “Democracy is a very delicate thing, perfected by the British, but that does not mean you can transplant it elsewhere.” In some ways, especially when you look at the Middle East, perhaps Smith was right, after all the fundamental thing about democracy means that those who are defeated at election time are obliged to hand over power to the newly elected winner. Some people, President Mugabe for example, were not inclined to do so or to even allow anyone to challenge them. Still, everyone votes for a dictator, or so they say.

As it happens, I have met a few Russian people. Back in my coach driving days, I drove a coachload of Russian shop stewards to various meetings with UK union representatives of British gas. I’m not sure what they were discussing but they all seemed pretty nice. In fact later on, they complained to their hosts that I was sitting on my coach, reading a book and eating sandwiches, when they were being wined and dined in a swanky hotel. This inequality so disappointed them that they insisted I come inside and be served the same lovely meal that they were served. Very nice it was too!

Surely then, wasn’t Ian Smith being just a little snooty? Don’t those same Russians deserve the same democratic rights that we tend to take so much for granted in the west?

What is the situation in the Kremlin today I wonder? Will anyone dare to tell Mr Putin that he doesn’t suit them anymore?


Steve Higgins is the author of Floating in Space set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page for more information!

 

Writer’s block, Russian Women, and my In-box.

It’s great to have lots of extra time to myself now I’m semi-retired and for me as a writer, well, amateur writer I suppose, (and blogger) I tend to use a lot of that time for writing. The crazy thing is, when you get a nice quiet day, all your jobs done, they’re the jobs Liz arranged for me before she went out to work, it’s great to fire up the laptop and get cracking. The big problem though is this, what do I write? Yes usually ideas seem to just flow for me, especially when I’m at work and it’s all getting pretty busy.

Now I’m not at work and I’m not really busy, the ideas aren’t coming. I could tell you about my TV viewing but I did that last week. Then there’s dealing with semi-retirement but I did that one the week before. I have actually got twelve posts in my draft box but none of those seem to be calling to me, not one of the twelve is saying “finish me!”

One of the problems of writing on a laptop is that eventually, even if you are beavering frantically away on a new post, the internet will eventually beckon. What has been quite amusing this week is how a shocking and outrageous event on a United Airlines flight has spawned an increasing number of spoofs using footage from the movie Airplane. If you’ve been away holidaying in the jungles of Borneo and have been without wi-fi then you won’t know that on an overbooked United Airlines flight, the staff simply picked a passenger at random and ejected him from the aeroplane! Smartphone video footage of the incident has gone ‘viral’ as they say. How the airline will recover from this PR disaster is anyone’s guess but the poor fellow in question, hauled off a flight because they were short of a seat for the staff, must certainly be considering legal action and American lawyers will probably be queueing up to take on the job. Fame and fortune and an easy legal victory must surely await the man who takes that one into the courtroom!

Anyway, Internet surfing done, next is a ‘quick’ look at my emails. I see I have one from the National Westminster Bank saying there is a problem with my account and I need to click on a link and enter my password to get it sorted. As it happens, I don’t have a Nat West account so whoever you are with your beady eyes on my hard earned cash, this scam didn’t work but people are falling for these scams in increasing numbers. Never click on emails asking for your passwords and if you are not happy with any type of mail you receive, call your bank but don’t use any links or numbers in the suspect e-mail.

This Russian lady is probably an Internet Scammer!

Also in my inbox is yet another e-mail from a Russian lady wanting a relationship with me! Poor girl! I have been targeted lately by numerous Russian ladies and not long ago I e-mailed one of these women back and said, look, I think you have fallen for a scam. I’m not on any dating sites and I’m not interested in you. The lady in question, her name was Kristina and she even enclosed a photograph, wrote back a very long letter telling me about her life in a small Russian village, how she was orphaned as a youngster and how she loved my picture and longed to be with me.

Sometimes, when the light gets me in a certain way and I’m wearing my leather ‘pulling jacket’ I tend to think I look quite good, hardly in the Bruce Willis class but acceptable though hardly deserving of anyone’s longing. Not only that, my picture, as far as I am aware, is not on any dating site, Russian or otherwise. Anyway, I wrote back again, told the lady her dating site was a scam and not to pay them a penny, or a ruble more. She wrote quickly back that luckily she had come into a small amount of money and was ready to fly over to the USA to spend some time with me and although she would be low on funds she was desperate to see me.

Yes, I’ve always wanted to visit the USA but hopefully when it happens I won’t be bumping into Kristina from the Russian City of Izhevsk. Of course she could also be after another Steve Higgins, or even the Steven Higgins from Ventura California, who I am constantly advised by the My Life Backgound Monitor Company Dot Com, that important personal details of mine are freely available on the Internet! No they are not and my name is not Steven and the only person who calls me Stephen is my Mum and even then it’s Stephen and not Steven!

Of course some are my details are freely available, for instance my novel set in 1970’s Manchester! Click the links at the top of the page to find out more. Now, back to this week’s post, what can I write about?